Monday, December 21
On today’s date in 1934, on a radio broadcast from Moscow, the orchestral suite Prokofiev culled from his film score to “Lt. Kije” received its first performance. The original film recounted the efforts of 18th century Russian bureaucrats to invent a suitably impressive life and death for a nonexistent Russian solider, whose unusual name, actually a typographical error on a list of real soldiers’ names, caught the attention of the Czar.
If the fictional Russian bureaucrats in “Lt. Kije” were terrified lest they displease the Czar, real-life composers living in the Soviet Union of the 1930s were desperately anxious to keep on the good side of their ruler, the dictator Joseph Stalin. It was, to put it mildly, a matter of life and death.
For Stalin’s 60th birthday, which fell on December 21st, 1939, Prokofiev composed a choral tribute entitled “Zdravitza,” which translates as “A Congratulatory Toast.” It, too, was broadcast on today’s date, this time booming over loudspeakers throughout Moscow’s squares and side streets. Prokofiev’s son Oleg recalls running home through the swirling snow eager to tell the big news: “Daddy! They’re playing you outside!”
Music Played in Today's Program
Sergei Prokofiev (1891 – 1953) Lieutenant Kije Suite Chicago Symphony; Claudio Abbado, cond. DG 447 419
Sergei Prokofiev (1891 – 1953) A toast! Op. 85 St. Petersburg Philharmonic Choir; New Philharmonia Orchestra; Alexander Titov, cond Beaux 38
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